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Op-ed: It is time for Pakistani society to shun discrimination based on skin color

It is truly ironic that although we are quick to point out the acts of racism perpetrated so callously by the white people, time and time again we have indulged in the same nauseating proclivities that made their actions so brutally unjust, writes Usama Ahmad.

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As the effect of the Black Lives Matter movement continues to create ripples throughout the world, there is very little in way of discourse over the subject matter herein Pakistan. On one hand, it is understandable for a country that’s in worse economic shape then it has been for some time and struggling to countenance with a pandemic. Yet, despite the absence of black men and women in our society, the intense racism that has existed against people of color can be traced back to the colonial rule in the subcontinent.

One doesn’t have to look too far to see the damage that has been inflicted on our society, decades after the British rule. It is truly ironic that although we are quick to point out the acts of racism perpetrated so callously by the white people, time and time again we have indulged in the same nauseating proclivities that made their actions so brutally unjust.

Read more: In the post pandemic world, will ‘Black Lives Matter’?

Pakistan in particular has a history besmirched by our internalized racism. Our bias against the people of East Pakistan was a big factor in the separation of East Pakistan and sprung, according to some social experts, from a false sense of superiority merely because of having a lighter complexion and a taller physical frame.

Even now, take the average Pakistanis’ treatment of tourists, with Asian and African background, there is hardly any evidence of the sycophantic behavior observed towards the white people. The fact of the matter is that despite our own personal history replete with white men plundering our land for resources, we continue to look up to them as glorified ideals.

Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Naya Qanoon’ which merits to be heralded as a great case study, showcasing the plight of an Indian man on the receiving end of perpetual racist rants

What is particularly damning is how we’ve absorbed the worst kinds of lessons from their colonial rule. Among the unequal and nonsensical land distribution, the sacrifices made by all those who died fighting for a country to get it liberated from British oppression, we were also passed down the gross standards of beauty and success that were used to shackle us not too long ago.

Who doesn’t have a nani or dadi who complains about a grandkid not being as fair as the others? Who hasn’t heard of a marriage proposal being turned down because the subject in question was a little “too dark”. And while our TV dramas are quick to address these outdated metrics for beauty, they themselves pedal the notion that people with fairer skin are the ones that are the most desirable.

Read more: Dark and lovely: India’s soul searching amid rampant colourism

The same channels that run dramas questioning our society’s devotion to fair faces also run morning shows with nutritionists and so-called beauticians advising women on how to get fairer. An overwhelming majority of the actors who star in teleplays these days are fair and unfortunately, they take pride in endorsing fairness creams.

Unilever’s Fair and Lovely is said to re-brand itself to focus more on making women of all colors feel beautiful, but their claims come far too late to be anything but disingenuous given their decades-long contribution to making people of color feel insecure about their appearances. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a lot of companies worldwide are solemnly swearing to do better in terms of diversity.

With the Black Lives Matter movement finally forcing organizations and people around the world to change the way they view black people

Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see much in the way of change happening here. We have been governed for far too long and far too successfully by billion-dollar corporations that thrive on creating insecurities and preying upon the masses, for me to believe they will radically change their business models to be morally conscious.

While the outcry for change across the globe this year has been deafeningly fierce, I do not foresee any tangible shift in the kinds of leads hired by TV and film executives. Sure, we have the odd breakout stars who are significantly darker-toned than others in the form of Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed, but they are the exceptions. Our entertainment industry has long stood in the shadows of Bollywood which has never quite confronted its own shortcomings when it comes to its colorism.

Read more: Internationalization of Police Reforms

This problem even transcends our films and TV series and is frequent in late-night talk shows where it is common practice to mock black people or harass the darkest comedian in the room. Consumed on a daily basis by households all over the country, there is little to differentiate between litanies of talk shows spewing rancid vitriol under the guise of humor. In all of them, there is often a phony attempt by self-aggrandizing on part of hosts to quell the anti-dark skin rhetoric in the discussion but nearly always, it is little more than a way to further the joke.

The effect of racism on us was not lost on one of the greatest writers of the previous century. Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Naya Qanoon’ which merits to be heralded as a great case study, showcasing the plight of an Indian man on the receiving end of perpetual racist rants.

Granted, the story’s setting is in a vastly different landscape, but a quick perusal of the short story will no doubt alert you to Manto’s objective: how racism proliferates even to people of color and just how blinding it can be. While Pakistanis of my age may prefer to swear to be different from those before us, the sad reality is that their avowed commitment to exterminate racist and colorist sentiments will be insignificant if we remain oblivious of our own complicity in it.

Read more: Manto – A film about Rebellion and Freedom

We’ve become too fond of a culture where melanin levels dictate who deserves to be mocked and who gets cast as the lead in our favorite shows. With the Black Lives Matter movement finally forcing organizations and people around the world to change the way they view black people, we must also look inwards to examine our own colorist propensities and dismantle the archaic notions of racial superiority that our oppressors used with impunity against us in the garb of “white man’s burden”.

Usama Masood Ahmad is an entertainment writer and research analyst at Global Village Space. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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